Select Irving Surname Genealogy

The surname Irving is Scottish.  Its root is uncertain.  One explanation is that the name came from a Celtic word irfon, meaning "green water;" another is that it originated with the word erinviene, meaning "from the west," and described men from Ireland who had settled on the west coast of Scotland around Dumfries.  Its first recorded use was in the 12th century when Gilchrist, son of Eruini, witnessed a charter in Galloway.  

There followed:
  • the place-names of Irving in Dumfriesshire and Irvine in north Ayrshire
  • and the Irving clan of Bonshaw in Dumfriesshire and the Irvine clan of Drum in Aberdeenshire. 
These Irvings and Irvines may have been related through a connection at the time of Robert the Bruce.  But the relationship is not proven.

Irving exists as a surname today, as does Irvine, Ervine, Erwin and Irwin.

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Select Irving Ancestry

Scotland.  The Irvings were one of the Border reivers, a family clan who, through raiding and clan feuding, rose to prominence during the lawless times on the English/Scottish border in the 16th century.  Their fortress and base was Bonshaw Tower in Annandale. 

The principal allies of the Irvings were the Johnstons, their principal foes the Maxwells and the English Wardens who sought to police the border.  Clan chief Christopher Irving pf Bonshaw was killed fighting the English at Flodden in 1513.  His son Edward pursued clan feuds, as did his son Christopher  known as "Black Christie."  The Irvings and the Johnstons combined to inflict a heavy defeat on the Maxwell forces at Dryfe Sands in 1593, which was in fact the last clan battle to be fought in Scotland. 

By this time there were the Whitehill Irvings (first known as the dukes of Hoddom) and the Gribton and Kirkconnel Irvings as well.  From the Whitehill Irvings came Jock O'Milk, a well-known raider of his day who is commemorated in the old Border ballad Duke of Milk.  The overall clan history is documented in Colonel J.B. Irving's 1907 book The Book of the Irvings

After the Border pacification of the early 1600's, the Irving chiefs led less dangerous lives.  Some became involved in Dumfries municipal affairs, others - such as Paulus Aemillius Irving - joined the army.  Although many Irvings left the area, most within Scotland were and are still to be found in the family stamping grounds of Dumfriesshire. Their numbers included the controversial early 19th century preacher the Rev. Edward Irving.  He was born in Annan and there is a statue of him in the old parish church there.

Orkneys  The Irving name has also appeared in the Orkney isles off Scotland.   William Irving was the first recorded there in 1425.  He was said to have been the son of William de Irvin, the secretary and armour-bearer of Robert the Bruce.  His descendants, starting with Criste Irving, were the Irvings of Sabay, one of the chief landed families of the islands at the time. 

Irving first appeared in parish records in 1639.  William Irving, born on the isle of Shapinsay in 1740, served in the British Navy and moved to New York in 1763. 
England.  Irvings crossed the border into England.  By the late 19th century there were more Irvings in England than there were in Scotland.

Cumbria  The largest numbers were and are in Cumbria.  Irving is in fact today the fourth most common surname in Cumbria.  The first stopping place was probably Kirklinton, just ten miles from the Scottish border.  Robert Irving, born there in 1723, was the forebear of a family of surgeons.  Another family traced itself back to Joseph Irving, born there in 1771.

"The Kirklinton church records from the early 1600's show a complex network of families, originally Urwin then becoming Irving and Irwin, sometimes switching names from one generation to the next. Consequently it is difficult to be 100 percent sure of the actual connections."      

Irvings were later to be found in Wigton and Carlisle and along the coast at Workington and Maryport (where there were Irving shipowners and mariners in the early 19th century).  The huntsman Willie Irving, the founder of the Lakeland terrier breed, was born in Ennerdale in 1898.
Ireland.  The Scottiish plantations brought Irvines and Irvings to Ulster in the 17th century.  It was the Irvine name that predominated.  The Irwing name cropped up in Roscommon and the Irvings of Donoughmore in county Donegal (of English border origin) date from 1796.

   There were Irvings in America from the Orkney isles.  William Irving, who had arrived in New York in 1763, was the father of the famous writer Washington Irving.  Another Orkney line led in the 20th century to Edward Burroughs Irving, a Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on Beowulf.

West Coast.  William Irving was a sea captain who left his native Annan in Dumfriesshire for Boston in 1841 at the age of twenty five.  Eight years later he was on the Oregon Trail to the West Coast where he started a coastal steamship business.  He was one of the first pioneers of steamer travel in the Pacific Northwest and is remembered as one of the most successful and popular captains of his era.  His son Captain John Irving carried on his father's work up the coast in British Columbia. 

Another Irving from Dumfriesshire to make his mark on the West Coast was Andrew K. Irving.  A shipwright by profession, he had moved to San Francisco in 1868 and started the first shipbuilding yard on the West Coast.  The Irvings evacuated San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake and his son Samuel became mayor of neighboring Berkeley.

The Jules Irving who founded the San Francisco Actor's Workshop with his wife in the 1950's was in fact born Jules Israel in New York.  He was the father of director David Irving and actress Amy Irving.

  There are twice as many Irvings in Canada as there are in the United States, and many of them in the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  New Brunswick had three Irving arrivals in the early 1820's:
  • George Irving and his wife Jane from Dumfriesshire
  • another George Irving from Dumfriesshire, this time married to Agnes
  • and two brothers, John and Henry Irving, from Ulster.
The first George had a son Kenneth Colin and, two generations later, a Kenneth Colin Irving was born in 1899 in Bouctouche, New Brunswick.  Known as KC Irving, he went on to found the Irving industrial empire, one of Canada's largest, which remains New Brunswick based, privately-owned, and run by the family (through his three sons - James, Arthur, and Jack - and their children).

Irvings in Canada generally came from Scotland and Ulster in Ireland.  The Irish Irvings might have come as Irvings or subsequently changed their name from Irvine to Irving.

Australia and New Zealand.  John Irving, born in Parramatta in 1796, was the son of John Irving and his common law convict wife Ann Marsh.  His father, sadly, died four months before he was born.  John was the forebear of a growing Irving family, first in Australia and then in New Zealand.

Select Irving Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Irving Names

Edward Irving of Bonshaw was the Irving clan chief for fifty years during the lawless times on the Scottish borders in the 16th century.
Washington Irving was an early 19th century American writer, the author of stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Sir Henry Irving was the leading stage actor in England during Victorian times.  He was born John Henry Brodribb.
KC Irving, from his base in New Brunswick, became one of Canada's foremost industrialsts of the 20th century.
John Irving is an American writer, the author of such novels as The World According to Garp.   His surname came from his stepfather.

Select Irvings Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cumbria)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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